“Annabelle Zinser is an excellent dharma teacher. Her teachings are always based on her own living experience.”—Thich Nhat Hanh
Small Bites offers readers meditations and mindfulness practices for a variety of everyday situations. In short chapters Zinser demonstrates how to connect to our awareness of breath while bringing our focus to a particular topic, such as recognizing negative thoughts and emotions, taking care of our sexuality, or dealing with emotional challenges. Small Bites gives readers a way to be in touch with the healing capacity of the present moment and provides tools to transform and heal even the most difficult aspects of our lives.
Reaching across all faith traditions, Small Bites will help readers bring grounded mindfulness practices into their daily lives.
Small Bites is designed to be nibbled; simply dip into it and find the meditation that suits this very moment. Zinser is one of Germany’s most prominent Zen teachers, and in 2007 she was the recipient of the United Nations’ Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award.—Shambhala Sun
Small Bites is a pleasant-to-read and eminently practical guide to meditation. While there are many such books available, Zinser’s distinguishes itself for its brevity, its clarity, and its surprisingly (for its length) comprehensive overview of the Dharma’s principles and teachings.—The Buddha Diaries
Annabelle Zinser is an excellent Dharma teacher. Her teachings are always based on her own living experience.—Thich Nhat Hanh
When we think of meditation, many of us have associations of sitting still, getting very relaxed, becoming aware of our breath, scanning our body or simply looking at a flower in order to become one with the breath, the body or the flower.
Focusing our mind on one object allows the mind, which is usually jumping from one thought to the next, to become still. This is a central aspect of Buddhist meditation called shamata.
Another type of Buddhist meditation is Insight- or Vipassana-meditation. Here we try to contemplate general characteristics of our existence like impermanence, non-self and the interconnectedness of all being, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Inter-being”. The goal is to understand these concepts on a deeper level.
The guided meditations in this book follow the tradition of the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. They are based on specific insights that Thich Nhat Hanh or Thay (the word means teacher in Vietnamese – and it is the way he is called by his students) draws from Buddhist teachings. The meditations will support us in our daily lives with our practice. They can lead us to:
to live more mindfully;
to increase our awareness in order to truly notice the smaller and larger joys and miracles in our life;
to deal with physical pain, so that we don’t suffer too much from it;
to recognize difficult emotions like fear, despair, anger, rage, insecurity, jealousy and depression, and in a second step to learn to transform these emotions;
to better cope with the ups and downs of life;
to allow beneficial mindsets like goodness, joy, compassion, generosity, appreciation and equanimity come to our mind;
to understand that we don’t live as isolated individuals, but that we are connected with everything else that exists on our planet.
These meditations, basically, help us practice the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths in our daily lives:
to recognize, when we suffer;
to explore the reasons leading to our suffering;
to know about the possibility of transforming our suffering;
and to understand and apply the elements of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, which help us to transform our suffering.
These meditations can be practiced alone or in a group. When we practice on our own, we can read the introduction to the meditation, then feel our breath for a few minutes and proceed to read the first two phrases. While the words make their impression on us, we let our breath flow naturally. We allow thoughts and feelings to arise as they come and go without expecting that we should achieve a special state. We always return to our breath. Then we read the next two phrases.
Of course, we can develop our own guided meditations fitting the situation that we find ourselves in. Through the practice of mindfulness in our daily lives we recognize more and more which energies want to come into our consciousness on a given day or in a particular phase of our life. Allowing ourselves to be aware of these energies will support us in our efforts to lead a peaceful and happy life. We will also notice which energies we might want to transform, as they make us and our surroundings suffer.
We can choose one of the guided meditations according to the topic that speaks to us the most at this point in time and practice for several days or longer. We don’t need to follow the suggested order in the book.
When we practice with a group, the person who guides the meditation may read the introduction and add his or her personal experiences to the specific topic of the guided meditation.
At the beginning of each guided meditation we invite the bell three times: The first ring is a short, small wakening sound preparing the listeners that a whole sound is about to come momentarily. Then we listen to the full sound of the bell. After every full sound we take time for at least three deep breaths.
Then we feel our whole body as we are breathing in and breathing out for several minutes. The leader of the group will read the first two phrases aloud and we follow the effect of the words in our body and our mind as we breathe in and breathe out. We spend between 7 and 21 breaths with one phrase and continue the same way with the next one.
It is helpful to take time at the end of the meditation for a mindful exchange. By sharing our experience we learn from each other in which way the guided meditation has touched each one of us.
These meditative contemplations are very simple and can be tremendously beneficial. If we take good care of ourselves and therefore begin to feel more loving, peaceful and stable, it will have a positive effect on other beings. We begin to be truly there for those whose lives we share: our partners, our children/parents, other family members, our friends and co-workers and even strangers.
Our own practice of mindfulness, concentration and deep understanding will give us the stability that is needed to fully participate in our immediate surroundings and in the world.
If we choose to listen to the meditations on the accompanying CD, we will be able to focus on the given topic without any interruptions. The introductions to the meditations may be read ahead of time in the book.
I wish you great joy with your practice!
Chapter: Introduction to Sitting Meditation
First of all it is important to find a suitable cushion for support. Choose one that is comfortable and helps to alleviate physical pain.
Some take a small stool, others a chair. Don’t lean into the back of the chair, so you can sit with a straight spine. It is also helpful to allow a bit of room between the legs when you sit on a chair. This will give your posture greater stability.
You might prefer sitting on a meditation bench or just on a cushion with your legs on the floor in front of your body. You might put one foot on the opposite thigh. Your knees should touch the floor in this position; if they don’t, you might want to support them with small cushions at the side.
Your hands may rest on the thighs with the palms facing up or down, the right hand may also lie in the left hand or vice versa. Interlocking your fingers in a praying position is another option. Some like to use a Mudra (gesture) by letting thumbs and index fingers or thumbs and middle fingers touch.
It is important that we straighten our spine right above the pelvis and extend our neck by bringing the chin slightly towards the throat.
We become aware of our legs touching the floor, we feel our calves and our thighs. We feel how our buttocks press into the pad. We become aware of our whole trunk expanding as we inhale, then contracting as we exhale.
We feel our shoulders, our arms and notice the position of our hands. We feel our neck and our head.
We feel our whole body as we breathe in and out and we let our breath flow naturally without trying to influence it. Our breaths may be long or short, shallow or deep. We simply take notice and kindly observe them.
If our mind starts to wander into thinking or dreaming after a few breaths, we can mindfully acknowledge: “Ok, this is dreaming, Ok, this is thinking…” and then we return to our breath very gently. We can rejoice in every conscious in-breath and every conscious out-breath.
We try not to fight with our mind, because we don’t want our meditation to turn into a battlefield. We enjoy the degree of concentration that is possible for us in this very moment.
Some people like to count their breaths: assigning the number one to the in-breath, the number two to the out-breath, one in, two out. We can count to ten in this way and then start over again.
We may also recite “in” inwardly as we breathe in and “out” as we breathe out.